CRAWFORD, Tex. President Bush has directed his top national security
aides to make a doctrine of pre-emptive action against states and terrorist groups
trying to develop weapons of mass destruction into the foundation of a new national
security strategy, according to senior administration officials drafting the document.
Iraq is clearly first on the target list for such action, and already the
Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Department have stepped up efforts
to unseat Saddam Hussein in a last effort to avoid the necessity of a full-scale
Yet the policy, a significant move away from the chesslike military strategies
of the cold war, deals more broadly with a range of options to prevent nations
from obtaining large-scale weapons or sponsoring terrorism. The strategy will
probably be completed in August, when the president is here on vacation.
His aides said they are fine-tuning the policy to make it clear that the United
States has options beyond armed intervention. Those options include joint operations
with Russia and other powers. Potential targets include weak states that have
become, in the words of one official, "petri dishes" for terrorist groups.
Mr. Bush emphasized pre-emption when he addressed the German Parliament last
month. He expanded on the theme at West Point two weeks ago, saying, "If we wait
for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long." On Friday, at
a Republican fund-raiser, he called his approach a "new doctrine," although it
echoes actions that past presidents have taken, notably President Kennedy's quarantine
of Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis.
"It really means early action of some kind," Condoleezza Rice, the national
security adviser, said in a recent interview. "It means forestalling certain destructive
acts against you by an adversary." There are times, she said, when "you can't
wait to be attacked to respond."
Although Ms. Rice describes the new policy as a broad one, and one that names
no countries or terrorist groups, it is already being set in motion against Iraq.
Twice since Sept. 11, Mr. Bush has signed findings authorizing more spending
for Iraqi opposition groups, with a focus on intelligence-gathering and on the
infiltration by American Special Operations forces and C.I.A. operatives.
The latest order authorizes those forces to kill Mr. Hussein only in self
defense, The Washington Post reported today,
expanding on a report in USA Today on Feb. 28. But a senior administration official
said today that the order made no reference to "targeting Saddam," and it would
not waive the prohibition on assassinating a foreign leader.
"The problem with a full-scale invasion is that you lose the element of surprise,
which is often critical in pre-emption," a senior official said today. "So the
president wants to try everything short of that, because he knows that if we have
to mount an invasion force, Saddam will see it coming."
Discussions within the White House have dwelled on examples that suggest that
the most successful pre-emptive actions were not the most drastic military options.
Ms. Rice noted that President Kennedy "thought about a lot of possibilities" during
the 1962 missile crisis, but rejected advice to launch a direct attack on the
Soviet missile sites being built on island.
"They settled on a strategy that actually was pre-emptive, but didn't use
military force to do it, and thereby preserved the possibility for the Soviets
to back down," she said. She would not apply the lesson to the current Iraq debate,
but said that "there's a whole range of possible ways to take early action."
Others involved said that White House discussions have taken up other cases:
President Johnson's consideration, for example, of a pre-emptive strike against
China to prevent it from deploying nuclear weapons. The option was abandoned.
The drafters of the policy have also given thought to cases in which presidents
failed to act pre-emptively, including not moving more actively against Nazi Germany
in the 1930's.
With that in mind, administration officials and some outside consultants have
discussed what kind of pre-emptive options Mr. Bush would have to choose from
if intelligence concluded that a nation was about to obtain or export weapons
of mass destruction. They have also considered how the United States should react
if Islamic militants in Pakistan, for example, tried to seize the country's nuclear
In public statements, Mr. Bush has not discussed his policy in terms of individual
countries or terrorist groups. But in private conversations with his close circle,
it is is a near-constant source of discussion. Those officials include Secretary
of State Colin L. Powell; Ms. Rice; her deputy for counterterrorism, Gen. Wayne
Downing; Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld; and other members of the national
security team. He has also taken it up with members of Congress.
Referring to action against Iraq, Senator Joseph Biden, the Delaware Democrat
who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said today on CBS, "I have
discussed this with the President," and "at length" with Ms. Rice and other aides,
and was convinced that in the campaign to oust Mr. Hussein, "there's a clear way
to do this."
But recently, Mr. Bush has sprinkled his public statements with references
to pre-emption as a pillar of a campaign against stateless terrorists or against
states that would slip them nuclear or biological material.
In Berlin last month, Mr. Bush stood in the Reichstag, whose burning in 1933
marked the beginning of Hitler's rise as Europe stood by, and warned his European
allies that "wishful thinking" would not eliminate "the new totalitarian threat."
The president's aides say the new policy rewrites the fundamental strategies
that guided American thinking during the cold war.
The first of those strategies was containment the policy of living
with the nuclear power of the Soviet Union but preventing its expansion. The second
was deterrence, which assumed that America's defenses could be arrayed to assure
a devastating response and therefore keep the enemy from acting.
Both strategies fit within the United Nations charter, which gives a nation
a right to defend itself when attacked but offers little room for countries to
define when they felt threatened.
The subject of formalizing a strategy of pre-emptive action including
military attack has come up repeatedly at the meetings of Mr. Bush's top
national security aides, held three times a week. "It didn't take long for this
to gel," Ms. Rice said, after "looking at the growing dangers of weapons of mass
destruction, at how the terrorists networks operate."
The process of including America's allies has only just begun, and administration
officials concede that it will be difficult at best. Leaders in Berlin, Paris
and Beijing, in particular, have often warned against unilateralism. But Mr. Bush's
new policy could amount to ultimate unilateralism, because it reserves the right
to determine what constitutes a threat to American security and to act even if
that threat is not judged imminent.
However, Mr. Bush has not described the limits of that policy or how he would
define a threat. "Constitutionally, the president has the right to act pre-emptively,"
Mr. Biden said today. "The hard question," he said, is how to judge whether a
country with nuclear or biological weapons has the intent to use them. "For example,
the Chinese have a capacity. Does the president have the right to pre-emptively
go strike the Chinese, the Communist regime?" Mr. Biden asked. "The answer's no."
Mr. Biden's observation raises the question of how much political pressure
from Congress, from allies, and perhaps from the United Nations
could limit Mr. Bush's freedom to act unilaterally. The administration, not suprisingly,
is arguing for the widest possible latitude, making the case that only it can
define what poses a major and imminent threat to national security.
Others outside the administration worry that other nations could immediately
follow the American lead and twist a policy of pre-emption to their advantage.
Israel could use it to justify harder strikes into Palestinian territory; India
could use it to pre-empt any Pakistani nuclear threat; China could use it to justify
an attack on Taiwan.
"Consistency poses problems," said Peter W. Galbraith, a former ambassador
to Croatia and now a professor at the National War College. Mr. Galbraith said
he is a supporter of pre-emptive action against Iraq, yet he worries about what
happens if the new American doctrine spreads uncontrolled. "No place is the risk
greater than in South Asia," he said. "If India adopted the American doctrine
of pre-emption, it risks a nuclear war, with devastating consequences for the
world. It's a tricky business."
Administration officials say they believe that that allied resistance to Mr.
Bush's approach is overstated and that Iraq is a superb first test of the policy.
The officials argue that the threat is clear and that Mr. Hussein's violations
of United Nations commands are vivid.
In speeches and private conversations, Mr. Bush makes clear that the United
States does not know whether Iraq has acquired nuclear or biological weapons,
but he suggests that the only prudent course is to assume it has. Otherwise, the
argument goes, Mr. Hussein would allow in weapons inspectors, whom he has barred
for three years now.
Also, even if there is little evidence that Iraq was involved in the Sept.
11 attacks, Mr. Bush and his aides say, Mr. Hussein's willingness to use chemical
weapons against his own people, the Kurds, must be taken as evidence that he would
attack the United States or its allies as soon as he has the capability. During
the Persian Gulf war in 1991, Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser under
Mr. Bush's father, warned that if Iraq used chemical or biological weapons against
Israel or American troops, the response would be devastating and overwhelming.
Mr. Hussein did not launch such an attack. But Mr. Bush's declared policy
of ousting the Iraqi dictator before he can act may have eliminated any incentive
for restraint. The policy may also prompt Mr. Hussein to a pre-emptive attack
of his own. "The message we've sent him in the past six months is very different
that he's going out," one senior official said. In light of that, Mr.
Hussein might be more willing "to respond with everything he's got."
Ms. Rice and other officials contend that the less headline-grabbing aspects
of the administration's new policy have been barely discussed in public but are
as important as the new military strategy. A critical component, she argues, is
establishing "a common security framework for the great powers," in which the
United States, Russia, China, Japan and Europe "share a common security agenda"
in which they work together to keep terrorists and rogue states from challenging
The administration argues that approach has shown promise already: China has
been mostly helpful talking to North Korea since the 1994 nuclear crisis there,
and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia joined in the effort to defuse the latest
India-Pakistan crisis. If that continued, she said, "this would be a much more
stable world." But Mr. Putin has strongly disagreed with President Bush about
the dangers of Russia's export of commercial nuclear technology to Iran, and China
continues to supply Pakistan. Neither has been persuaded by the administration's
insistence that they must stop.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company